Who´s GrieFing Now?

March 18, 2008

Call it field work if you must.

Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 10:20 pm

… and why not academics engaging in online transgression?

“Academics celebrating online transgression are like 60’s liberals throwing a wine and cheese party for the Black Panthers”
(Peter Ludlow, SXSW, March 10, 2008).


March 14, 2008

Phil Harvey: Steal This Line.

Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 12:31 pm

also at Light Reading

SXSW 2008 — In the digital world, transgression and sacrilege are facts of life and, as Heitor Alvelos said here this week, “In one way or another, we are all breaking down traditional notions of justice, fair use, morals, property. If we are not actually responsible for transgressive acts, we still live with them and accept them and consume them.”

At Light Reading, the reaction to a perceived transgression in the virtual space once played out in the real world in the form of a precedent-setting lawsuit. In 2005, Juniper Networks sued several anonymous Light Reading message board posters for libel and defamation.

The company’s intent, we think, was to silence the company’s nameless, faceless critics online and to make the offending remarks go away. Well, things didn’t go as planned.

Light Reading reporters, too, have been changed by the faster flow of information in the digital world — and, to some extent, piracy and transgression are to thank for this positive change. Our best scoops have served as the foundation of the mainstream media’s telecom coverage. The mainstream stories are picked up, disseminated, and reinterpreted by the bloggers. Those blog posts are then posted and discussed on our message boards, sometimes with a helpful note suggesting that we get off our asses and go cover the story. Hmmm…

Hector Postigo nailed it when he said that the authored work is now the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it.

This idea of the reporter as the beginning of the conversation has been a part of Light Reading from the early years of the site. We’ve always made connections between groups of people seeking information and groups of people who have those facts.

As we move closer to the days when bylines become bygones, you can still get a scoop. But don’t hold onto it too long. The longer you stay out of this constant conversation with an eager audience, the lower your value becomes to that community online. Reporters often are not eager to be accessible to the communities they serve — and that’s too bad.

But when you respond to change positively, a way of working that was once seen as sacrilege is now commonplace.

Another quick thought on digital media in general: Let’s not forget the important lessons found in how the Japanese treat manga.

In manga-land, there is an unspoken, implicit agreement between the creators of original content and the dozens or hundreds of works that spring up based on the characters in that original content. Somehow, there’s an understanding that sometimes, in some contexts, copyright violation — yes, transgression — draws more attention to the original work. It opens that work up to more copying, but it also increases its commercial and social value.

I think content producers (reporters, musicians, artists, authors) and their corporate masters need to work harder to establish that unspoken agreement that works so well elsewhere. In the virtual world, there’s much more fun to be had with a little petty theft than with a lot of petty regulation.

I’d love it if you steal that last line. Really.

— Phil Harvey, Editor, Light Reading

March 12, 2008

Summary of Hector Postigo’s Talk: The New Prosumership: When Producers and Consumers are One

Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 4:06 pm
In this brief presentation I highlighted some instances of legal and cultural transgressions in intellectual property. Those transgressions are made by an emerging prosumership that puts pressure on the rationale for IP ownership and its enforcement through technological means. At the same time those transgressions involve assaults on culturally powerful memes over authorship. In many the talk was about the tactics that some use to enforce and/ reclaim “ownership/control” of cultural products in online or digital media. Ultimately I argued that these transgressions are a healthy step in a new productive paradigm that incorporates active audiences.
I presented 3 instances of techno/legal/cultural transgressions (The Grey Tuesday Event, iTunes DRM Hacks, and The GI Joe Mod for Battlefield 1942) and tied them together as instances of an ongoing struggle over control over content.
Ultimately I asked the audience to imagine a distribution system where movies, games, music are sold free of all digital locks and including the editing tools need to make mash ups and other interesting reconfigurations; to imagine a system where re-broadcast was built into the distribution model with revenue flowing not only to the original creators but also to the re-broadcasters. This is happening in part (YouTube but users don’t get revenue) but it is not systematized and certainly not part of the system of production at the level of big media (even though the prosumership is quite ready to take part in such a system). So maybe the last cultural/legal transgression that needs to be addressed is one of the defines, in our experience of media, the finality of a cultural product, ”the myth of the finished product” if you will.
The cultural weight of the written word, the permanence of cellulose, the ephemeral un-capturable fleetingness of the broadcast are all myths of the past, the finished work of authors and media producers is not the end of the story but the beginning;its the jumping off point for millions of deriviative works that have value both to producers, prosumers and culture writ large.
By addressing and transgressing this last norm we might just tackle the gross inefficiencies that plague copyright law on derivative works that prevent the maximization of vale of a products that are never really finished…this is of course the nature of all information in the digital world…


Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 3:51 pm

(An extract from Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, and Jock Young, Cultural Criminology: An Invitation. London: SAGE, forthcoming Sept. 2008)

In January, 2006, Jeff Ferrell scrounged a 1999 Gap Loss Prevention Manual from a dumpster behind a Gap clothing store; also in the dumpster was a little plastic briefcase labeled “Banana Republic Impact Selling’.
Reading through the manual, it becomes clear that the dumpster isn’t the only place where The Gap mixes consumption, social control, and crime prevention. Time and again the manual emphasizes to employees that ‘customer service’ is the best guard against shoplifting and other theft-related ‘shortage’, since ‘great service keeps our customers coming back and shoplifters from coming in’. The manual offers specific suggestions for customer service as crime prevention—‘extend a warm hello to customers and offer your assistance’—and even suggests scripts: ‘Hello, are you shopping for yourself or for a gift?’ ‘How do you like our new fall colors?’
Should this preventive strategy fail, employees are advised to use ‘recovery statements’ to reclaim shoplifted merchandise. ‘Role-play different scenarios with your managers,’ they’re told. ‘Practice using APPROPRIATE, NON-ACCUSATORY, SERVICE-ORIENTED Recovery Statements’ (emphasis in original). As before, specific statements are suggested, among them ‘How did the stone color khakis work for you? Do you need another size?’ and ‘That dress is really cute. I bought one for my niece the other day’.
This management of verbal interaction is matched by the management of emotion (Hochschild, 2003). ‘Remember to remain positive!’ when making recovery statements, the manual urges; even when responding to a store alarm, ‘do not accuse the customer or allow the conversation to become confrontational.’ And under guidelines for the hectic holiday sales season, employees are urged to call the Loss Prevention Hotline if they suspect internal problems at the store (all calls confidential, up to a $500 reward), and in the next line encouraged to ‘Have fun!!! The holidays are a perfect time to “choose your attitude!!”.’ Further emotional support is provided by Loss Prevention Contests, where employees are rewarded with gift certificates or movie passes for knowing loss prevention procedures.
If shoplifters are up to nothing more than snagging a Gap hoodie these sorts of soft control customer service techniques and ‘recovery statements’ may work as crime prevention. But what if they’re up to something more? What if they’re part of the Yomango underground? Yomango emerged in 2002 in Spain; ‘yomango’ is Spanish slang for ‘I steal’, and a play on ‘Mango’, the name of a Spanish chain store. Now a trans-European, Latin American, and growing worldwide phenomenon, Yomango is based on the idea that shoplifting—that is, ‘liberating products from multi-national companies or big chain stores’—can function as ‘a form of civil disobedience and a survival technique.’ Attempting to reimagine stealing and to ‘give it a different meaning’, Yomango participants see themselves as engaging in a subversive ‘magic’ that ‘turns the mall into a playground’ (www.yomango.net; Adbusters, 2005; see Edemariam, 2005).
More broadly, illegal everyday practices like Yomango, squatting, and fare-dodging train travel are practiced as part of a new ‘precarity’ youth movement, a movement that embraces and confronts the precarious conditions of late modernity. Practitioners argue that the fluid, globalized dynamics of late capitalism—‘flex scheduling’, part-time service employment, outsourced work, temporary jobs sans benefits or long-term assurances—leave more and more people, especially young people, with nothing but emotional and economic uncertainty. Yet this very uncertainty—this very precariousness—creates a new sort of commonality, maybe an amorphous social class, where ‘immigrants, mall workers, freelancers, waiters, squatters…an immigrant worker and a downwardly-mobile twenty-something’ (Kruglanski, 2006) together drift through the anomie of late modernity. And so precarity is seen to replace the work place as a place to organize the disorganized, to find some common ground, as slippery as it may be, to realize that under such conditions ‘we are all migrants looking for a better life’ (Tari and Vanni, ).
After all, if for an earlier generation ‘a job was an instrument for integration and social normalization’, today jobs are only temporary ‘instruments we use to obtain the cash we need in order to live and socialize with the least humiliation possible’. And yet the minimum-wage cash from a part time job is never enough, and the humiliation only increases—remember, these service-worker kids have been forced to learn that Gap manual and others just like it: ‘Smiling is working—where does my real smile begin? Whether your friendliness is tainted by the shade of networking, or shaded by “Hello, how are we today? My name is Rob and I’ll be your server’ (Kruglanski, 2006). And so, with the ‘extinction of the relatively stable structures of classical industrial capitalism’ (Hall and Winlow, 2007: 83) all but complete, with the social contract effectively voided by the fluid predations of late capitalism, the clerks and servers turn on the very situations that entrap them.
That is, they steal from the very stores whose continued viability rests on their underpaid employment. ‘Stealing in itself is not a political act’, says one practitioner, ‘but you can turn it into something political if you want to use this term’ (Adbusters). ‘Yomango is a transformative act of magic,’ says another. ‘It does not recognize the laws of physics nor does it acknowledge definitions such as legal or illegal. It does not recognize borders or security arcs. Yomango liberates objects and liberates your desires. It liberates your desire trapped in objects trapped inside large shopping malls. The same place where you yourself are trapped. Yomango is a pact between co-prisoners’ (Kruglanski, 2006). But how can these young shoplifters beat the mall security system, avoid the surveillance cameras, elude the loss prevention strategies of The Gap and Starbucks? Oh, that’s right—they’ve read the manual; it’s their orchestrated smiles and scripted greetings that constitute the front line of loss prevention in the first place.
Transformative magic indeed, and of course soundly illegal; German police in 2005 raided the home of a man they claimed was promoting Yomango through his website (Edemariam, 2005). ‘What’s important to note is that all that stuff is free’, says ‘P. Bannister, CEO of Yomango’. ‘Why? Because we’re smart, because there are lots of us, and because we are working on our own turf’ (in Kruglanski, 2006).
All that stuff is also free if you get it not from the store but from the Dumpster out back—a dumpster like the one where Ferrell scrounged the loss prevention manual.

San Precario, Serpica Naro

Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 12:46 pm

(An extract from Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, and Jock Young, Cultural Criminology: An Invitation. London: SAGE, forthcoming Sept. 2008)

The Italian phrase ‘non so a che santo votarmi’—‘I don’t know which saint to pray to’—expresses a profound hopelessness about future prospects. Afflicted by the hopelessness of the late capitalist service economy, a group of young workers in Milan have created San Precario, the ‘patron saint of precarious, casualised, sessional, intermittent, temporary, flexible, project, freelance and fractional workers’. A ‘detournement of popular tradition’ (Tari and Vanni) and a prank on Italian religious life, Saint Precario appears in processions and protest marches, at fast food outlets or temporary employment agencies, or at a supermarket deli counter (dressed as a supermarket worker). In each case he (or she—San Precario is transgendered) is said to carve out from the tedium of everyday service work a temporary autonomous zone (Bey), to create a moment of subversive carnival (Presdee, 2000), perhaps even to resurrect the old IWW/Wobbly politics of humorous defiance (Shukaitis, 2007).

Most remarkably, San Precario was even able to infiltrate the prestigious Milan Fashion Week 2005, in the persona of ersatz fashion designer Serpica Naro (an anagram of San Precario). As illicitly invented by media-savvy service workers in the fashion industry and fashion media, Serpica Naro came complete with a biography, website, press clippings, and history of public controversy. And when Naro finally staged a fashion show during Fashion Week 2005, precarious workers posing as protesters threatened to disrupt it—all of which generated a police presence, intensive media coverage, and so, ultimately, public awareness of the plight of precarious workers.

March 11, 2008

Why this blog?

Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 7:59 pm

The Virtual Sacrilege blog was started as a result of the 2008 South By Southwest Interactive Panel Virtual Scandals and Sacrilege: Who´s GrieFing Now?. After some very positive feedback and a few requests, we decided to make the presented information available. We want this to be the starting point of more in-depth debate on the issue of transgression in digital and online environments, so feel free to get in touch. virtualsacrilege@gmail.com

Opening presentation

Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 5:00 pm

Can be downloaded here:alvelospresentation10mar08.pdf.

Keynote paper

Filed under: Uncategorized — virtualsacrilege @ 4:30 pm

The subject of this session is transgression in digital environments, transgressive acts that have been considered wrong within our social and cultural environment. We are speaking of piracy, trolling, copyright infringement, civil disobedience, theft, griefing, fake authenticity, malicious rumors. The list goes on and on.

We will argue that transgression is now an integral part of our daily lives.

In one way or another, we are all breaking down traditional notions of justice, fair use, morals, property. If we are not actually responsible for transgressive acts, we still live with them and accept them and consume them.

The goal of this panel is to open up debate, in order to better understand the impact of virtual transgressive behavior in the so-called “real world”, and to understand how that real world has been trying to catch up with the pace of the mayhem. We will also propose that an interesting phenomenon may be taking place: transgression may be being used by “official” channels as an ambivalent marketing device.

The universe of transgression is extremely large. It is simply not possible to contain its seemingly endless variations within this next hour. We therefore decided to focus on a series of cases that have had more evident impacts and consequences, and to analyse their social and cultural impact.

I started becoming interested in the subject of virtual transgression as I read Julian Dibbell´s seminal book “My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World”. (Originally, I intended for Julian to join us at this panel, but unfortunately he had prior commitments). “My Tiny Life” is an account of the early days of Multiple User Domains, and Dibbell begins by telling us the story of a virtual rape occurring at the LambdaMOO community in 1993. In Dibbell´s words:

“While certain tension invariably buzzes in the gap between the hard prosaic RL facts and their more fluid dreamy VR counterparts, the dissonance in the bungle case is striking. No hideous clowns or trickster spirits appear in the RL version of the incident, no voodoo dolls or wizard guns, indeed no rape at all as any RL court of law has yet defined it. The actors in the drama were university students for the most part, and they sat rather undramatically before computer screens the entire time, their only actions a spidery slitting of fingers across standard keyboards. No bodies touched. Whatever physical interaction occurred consisted of a mingling of electronic signals sent from sites spread out between New York City and Sydney, Australia.”

“Months later, the woman in Seattle would confide to me that […] posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face – a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words’ emotional content was no mere playacting.”

And then extrapolates:

“We are witnessing a paradigm shift in which the classic liberal firewall between word and deed is not likely to survive intact. After all, anyone the least bit familiar with the computer, knows that it operates on the principle that states that the commands you type are a kind of speech that doesn’t so much communicate as “make things happen,” the same way pulling a trigger does. They are incantations. The logic of the incantation is rapidly permeating the fabric of our lives.”

It is remarkable how these words were written fifteen years ago: they still describe with total accuracy the dilemma in which we are stuck.

Flash-forward to the present. If the paradigm shift Dibbell described still applies, the formal sophistication and pervasiveness have grown exponentially. Assault still happens in Second Life, just as vandalism on John Edwards´campaign headquarters made it to the national news, just as the September 11 attacks were reenacted. In face of this, Philip Rosedale, chief executive of Linden Labs, defends that Second Life activities should be governed by real-life laws for the time being. This “for the time being” is revealing, in that it acknowledges the impermanence and ambiguity of virtual transgression.

But the magnitude of virtual transgression has gone far beyond VR communities, and now includes video games, consumer culture, media events and religion. In June 2007, Insomniac Games released a Playstation game named Resistance: Fall of Man. One of the key locations for this violent game was Manchester Cathedral, in England. The Church of England did what it had to do: condemn the game as sacrilegious, demand an apology, and threaten with a lawsuit.

But the surprising element was the actual outcome for the Cathedral itself: the number of visitors rose, and one may wonder at the financial benefits that may have come out of this. Months later, St. Paul´s Cathedral in London followed suit as a scenario of Hellgate.

In light of this, the traditional sociological notion that transgression is an act of deviance may no longer mean much. Transgression is now woven onto institutionalised discourse and narrative, it is a factor of cool, it is a sales pun. SL needs griefers as an integral part of its symbolic capital.

Heitor Alvelos, Austin, March 2008

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